Did you ever see the episode of South Park called "Casa Bonita"? You know, the one where Cartman gets all jazzed up to go to this weird Mexican-themed restaurant that has a fake pirate's cave, cliff divers, and yummy enchiladas? Well at the end of the episode, the cops are closing in on him (as cops often do with that fatass) and all he can do is run as quickly through the restaurant as he can to experience every attraction one last time, if even only for a microsecond. That's what the conclusion to ABC's miniseries Last Resort felt like, and we all know why.
For future generations that find this article after streaming the finale on their pupil implants and wondering what the fudge was up with that ending, here's the deal. Creators Shawn Ryan and Karl Gajdusek got the call of doom from ABC after writing the episode as though it was just Episode 13 and not the series finale. So the pair got out their erasers and rewrote large chunks of the episode to turn it into the final installment of Last Resort. It's totally shitty that that had to happen, but given the unforgiving circumstances they faced, I'd say Ryan and Gajdusek did a bang-up job. If nothing else, no one can say "Controlled Flight Into Terrain" was boring.
Ryan and Gajdusek insist that the bulk of "Controlled Flight Into Terrain" was just as intended, and the groundwork for another cardiac episode was in place as Prosser's mutiny got Xzibit'd (yo dawg I heard you like mutinies so I put a mutiny in your mutiny) and our loony tunes part-time mercenary, full-time rapist Anders took the con and the launch keys with the intent of selling the Colorado to the Chinese. That's one heck of a mid-season finale if I ever heard of one, and given the quality of the previous handful of episodes, I have no doubt that it would have been amazing.
Instead, about four hours' worth of television drama were compressed into a single episode—three of those hours in the last ten minutes—for a series finale that had no choice but to move at Mach speeds. It was just as much a look into the cruel business of television as it was a hurried wrap-up of an intriguing story. In fact, if you squint your eyes just so and listen very carefully, the episode almost becomes a self-aware metaphor for what was happening behind the scenes.
And in this hare-brained metaphor, Marcus Chaplin, the brave captain who steered the steel tube through troubled waters, represents Ryan and Gajdusek. The USS Colorado is obviously the show itself, and Chaplin's refusal to leave the ship behind and let it fall into the hands of the Chinese is Last Resort's showrunners displaying their belief in the series, giving it all until the very end. Wait! Stay with me here! The FA-18 fighter jets sent to blow up the Colorado were the impending and unstoppable cancellation (FA = "From ABC," 18 = "18-49 demo"), and the sub crew and other horrified onlookers represent us, the viewers who believed in the show and the men behind it. I'm obviously a mix of Sam Kendall and James King because I did 20 pushups the other day and once found a hint of a jawline when I was shaving. Ladies, if you think you can be Tani or Sophie or Christine, go ahead and send me a sexy picture. Let's call the Chinese Zero Hour, the show that will take Last Resorts's slot. The president of the United States is obviously ABC, and the evil puppet masters in Washington are the poor scheduling decisions (or GREAT conspiracy) to put Last Resort in a terrible time slot. (Opposite Thursday-night football, The Big Bang Theory, AND The X Factor? Come on, ABC, this was clearly a 10pm show that needed the male audience that would also watch football.) I'll admit that this metaphor sounded better after five beers last night, but I still think it holds some water.
So what did happen as a result of wrapping things up so quickly? Marcus went down with the ship, which I approve of. Sam, Prosser, Grace and the rest of the crew made it home and the conspiracy was in the process of being revealed to the public. James and Tani's relationship was quickly given one last look, but that's a storyline that needed a lot more time to grow and really, James should have taken the shot on Zheng. I don't think any of us would have complained if the shifty diplomat's brain matter ended up in the back seat of that Jeep. What happened to the island remains unclear, with Sophie pawing at Sam on a video screen (sad) and Serrat left to do who knows what. Kylie got the most insane, bleak, pitch-black ending of all, shooting Robert, because with his involvement in the attempted coup he was fucked anyway and it gave the Washington bad guys reason to believe Kylie was on their side. But Kylie wasn't done, and at the end she strolled into a fancy D.C. politico cocktail hour and shot the president! To death! We didn't see what happened to her, but I'm guessing the carpet ran red with her insides as the Secret Service opened her up with bullet art. And to those of you saying it's preposterous that her dad convinced security to wave her through a pat down, give me a break. The only real crime there is that the extra playing the security guy didn't get to rub his hands on Autumn Reeser. I feel for you, bro.
When you look back at the episode, it's incredible to recount just how much happened in those final moments and how it closed up the series in a mostly satisfying manner. It didn't always make the most sense, but given the constraints of the reality of the situation, I'm impressed. And I was definitely entertained.
Some out there will tell you that the early cancellation was a blessing in disguise and that Last Resort was better off as a miniseries anyway. But they're wrong! I always thought what we saw—the conflict with the U.S.—was a preamble to what Last Resort was really meant to be. With the island's mineral-rich resources, Sainte Marina was about to become one of the richest nations in the world, and Marcus would be sitting on a pile of wealth with tons of nuclear missiles ready to fire in his harbor. That's security. Financial and military independence was half-a-season away, and that's when the real fun would have started as a new superpower suddenly sprang up in the middle of the ocean. Marcus and Sam would've had to build some sort of national infrastructure with laws and public service, causing all sorts of complications as a Constitution was hastily drawn up. Last Resort was about a military standoff. But if it had gotten the chance, it would have been about creating a new nation. This thing was far from over.
But we'll never see Marcus trade his Wayfarers for standard-issue dictator-sized Aviators and carry a scepter as the powerful leader of Marcustan. We won't get to see Sam choose between the blonde attached to his finger or the French brunette right in front of him. We won't see how far into the dark side Kylie would have gone. We won't see James and Tani be Tarzan and Jane of the jungle. Thankfully Last Resort was given the chance to go out partially on its own terms, and it didn't half-sack it. As for you ABC, thank you for giving this kind of ambitious show a chance. But next time, schedule it so it has a chance. You've been warned.
– I didn't even get to write about the great talks between Sam and Marcus in the first three-quarters of the episode. Their debate about who was crazier was fantastic.
– Who else wanted to see it end with Marcus launching all those nukes everywhere?
– Grace: "You touch him and you'll need a turkey baster to have kids." Grace, I love you.
– I would have loved to have seen one last scene with Curry (Jay Karnes). I miss that guy.
– A couple of good post-finale interviews with Ryan and Gajdusek are out online. Check out Eric Goldman's interview with Gajdusek at IGN and Alan Sepinwall's talk with Ryan over at Hitfix for details on what was rewritten and where the show was headed.